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Monday, January 02, 2006

Jeremy Coon (of `Napoleon Dynamite' and `Sasquatch') on shooting and editing digitally

I was having a quick e-mail exchange just before the holidays with Jeremy Coon, part of the team that brought you `Napoleon Dynamite' (he was a producer of that film, and edited it on FinalCut Pro in his LA apartment). Jeremy is also a producer of `The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang,' which premieres this month at Slamdance. (Again, Jeremy produced and, with director Tim Skousen, edited.)

I got in touch with Jeremy for an article I'm writing about the upcoming Sundance Film Festival; but we also talked a bit about the drawbacks and advantages of digital cinematography and post-production - stuff that won't show up in the article. So I wanted to publish it here.

I asked Jeremy whether `Sasquatch' had been shot digitally. He said no:

    I feel that digital, at least currently, is much more useful and productive in the post-production world. Eventhough HD has made great strides in quality, it would not be my first choice over film as an originating format if I planned on releasing the film theatrically. Until a number of theaters make the switch to digital projection, the only widely-accepted exhibition format is 35mm. That being said, HD and other digital aspects are making post production totally sweet.

    On `SDG,' we cut on FinalCut Pro (like `Napoleon'), using off-the-shelf software and hardware from Apple for a total cost of about $8000. That wasn't possible really even five years ago. The director has a system in Salt Lake City, and we were able to share sequences and consolidate cuts in a very simple free way which was very liberating. You can cut on a laptop or a desktop, whichever is more convenient at the time, and transfer that work to the desktop. We also had some simple effects that were scanned in at 2K. Then, the effects were done digitally and then it was film out to 35mm and cut in the neg.

    The two things I'm most excited about doing on my next film we wanted to do on `SDG,' but it just wasn't cost-effective enough on a really low-budget film. The first is to use HD (or a format such as DVC-PRO HD) as an offline editing format. It's possible now to cut in full HD or lesser HD while you're editing. This is exciting for two reasons. One, as an editor, you can tell if certain shots have soft focus or other minor details that are masked in lesser video formats. The other is for screenings. You can basically output a super high-quality version of the film to test it while you're editing and do it seemlessly from your own system. Eventually (and in many cases now) onlines are going to be a thing of the past, because you will be editing at the highest quality.

    The other thing is a digital intermediate. These are still pretty expensive, but like every new tech, [they are] coming down in price where it's becoming more feasible. The traditional way to do films is negative cutting, which is always nerve racking to me, because if the cutter screws up, that's the original film and there's nothing to replace it. With a DI, the original negative can be protected. Also, largely once the neg is cut, it's done and there's little room for changes. With a DI, it's all digital so it can be redone -- although it's still very expensive to film out. The opticals can also be completed digitally and then just laid in the DI. The DI basically lets you have more options while also being more safe because the original neg can be protected.

For more from Jeremy, see this article from Apple, which focuses on `Napoleon Dynamite' - or this one from MovieMaker Magazine.